Violeta M. Bagia
Triggers, Trauma and Control during a time of Covid Lockdowns
In an everchanging world and the added stress of the constant unknown with Covid-19, it’s easy to switch into survival mode. Perhaps we avoid the triggers that once made us stop or maybe we use them to push through and finish one job and start the next. A mechanical, subconscious response to trauma. Everyone’s trauma comes in a different form, bullying, rejection, a car wreck, a lost job, a mean boss, the list is endless as are the aftereffects.
Enter, a personal anecdote about my own trauma and responses. Those who know me well, have often told me to slow down and rest when I finish one project and jump into the other. Everyone else sees the insatiable hunger to succeed and unshakeable drive, often praising it. Beneath both of those outward personas is the version of myself that was created when I was raped.
Now, don’t get me wrong boys and girls, I’m not giving him all the credit and saying that I wouldn’t have the determination I have now had he not done what he did. But in part, there are certainly aspects that were created that night replacing the innocent, carefree girl I had once been. Hard to imagine isn’t it? For those reading who know me well, recall that I was all about going with the flow and seeing what comes next. There was little future planning or career goals. So why, you might ask, has trauma resulted in drive? After almost a decade of trying to work that out for myself, the answer came in the form of one, simple word that carries so many dangerous yet fulfilling connotations: control.
Knowing that I can control what I do and when, gives me a sense of fulfilment that results in a drive that’s hard to describe. But I’ll give it a go for posterity’s sake. It’s knowing that I’m leaving a legacy that isn’t marred by a cruel boy who thought he was above the law, it’s knowing that I am making these choices and paving my own way and it’s knowing that I am in charge of what I put out for the world to see. Passion, drive and success.
That’s all well and good, but what about those pesky triggers? Ah, those don’t simply vanish because I decided so. That’s something my wonderful friends in the field of psychology have advised me is ingrained into the mind of the experiencer and buried deep within the psyche. We can’t control it, but we can control the way we react when it is upon us. Good enough for me!
Triggers can come in the most subtle of ways and they’re not always something obvious like watching an assault on TV or in a movie. Sometimes it’s as simple as a smell, cologne or cigarettes, sometimes a little vaguer like a sound on TV filtering through the walls. The biggest trouble with these is that they’re part of everyday life. And where once I could escape to my car and drive for hours to go for a long walk, I’ve had to change the way I approach my self-care in order to avoid a hefty fine for venturing beyond the 5km radius of my home. Damn you Corona! *shakes fist at the sky*
But this again, is a matter of choice. I’ve had my own moments where I wept like a baby deprived of her mother’s teat, but alas, I have pulled myself together somewhat to reflectively write this piece. What have I learned? I’m only human and I have to slow down like my dad often tells me and my husband repeats. Don’t tell them I admitted that!
In all seriousness, the need to go out and be amongst trees, creeks and the ocean has been felt especially over the past few weeks when the new, harsher restrictions came into place here in Victoria. My own mindset has had to shift from the need to control every single aspect of my life to understanding that I can’t. I’ve had to stop reading the news because the idiotic people making this worse for us angers me, I’ve had to stop engaging in conversations that leave me mad. Instead, I’ve started focusing on smaller things like dropping a unit at Uni to take care of myself, slowing down with my writing because this isn’t “business and usual”, and allowing myself to binge watch UFO shows and zone out.
After reflecting on this realisation over the last few weeks when I first started writing this piece and deciding whether I wanted to publish it, I’ve yo-yoed between feeling like a failure to feeling stronger than ever. The triggers might still linger and the need to switch off will be there, but it’s about what we do when those moments come. For me, it's deciding that it's okay to slow down knowing that it's just a momentary pause in the movie of life while I get up to make more popcorn and refill my drink!
Slowing down isn’t giving up control, it’s understanding what is in your power and what isn't.